The rise of ‘social’ customer service

Customer service was one of the things I had to think about very carefully when we started our business. We had a product – a social CRM – that would be new to many of the people using it.

There was bound to be a need for quality support and service.

So we wondered. Should we supply a landline phone number? But we were often out and about, and I didn’t want the developer team being interrupted. Maybe we should provide mobile numbers? Not an option: that could just make us look too small. In the end we did neither. Instead, we opted to build our Support Centre entirely around social media, email and online self-help information.

Perhaps many people in the customer service business would regard that approach as dangerous. By not providing a telephone channel at all, would we run the risk of frustrating customers with support issues? Or worse, would we put off new prospects who wanted to be confident in the support we offer?

In the event, neither happened. Customers are happy with the service we provide. And I can think of only two occasions when people have noticed and commented about our lack of phone numbers – both of whom are customers now.

Why has our approach worked?

Our customer service satisfactorily resolves the issue. We are held accountable by our customer community on Twitter, which means we can’t leave issues lying unresolved. This makes us much more responsive than if we were chasing voicemails that no one else knows about.

We minimise the effort the customer needs to put in. Our self-help option, which enables customers to find answers easily, is great at minimising effort and allows the customer to get answers whenever is convenient for them.

We avoid passing customers from pillar to post. For us, this is the beauty of Twitter-based support. The customer feels as though they are talking to one voice, and the flow is uninterrupted. Admittedly this will be different for companies that need to take issues ‘offline’, perhaps for security reasons. But for a small business like ours, it works perfectly.

Of course I’m not suggesting that everyone should do customer service in exactly the way we have done. We are a small company, so the scale and challenges are different to those faced by other organisations. Also we are a social media company, so you can argue that our approach to service does fit with our brand.

What I’m saying is that social media can, and should, work as a viable part of any service operation. Here’s why:

Social media can help you do more with less: for small businesses, customer service through social can be something of an equaliser. By giving you a means of building a customer service capability, without the need to man the phones, it can help you punch above your weight. For large businesses, I believe social media has similar potential to bring new efficiencies to your wider customer service operation: taking the pressure off phone lines, and improving engagement on dwindling resources.

It’s ok to set expectations: one of the things that puts businesses off doing customer service via social media is the idea that they’re going to need to be available every hour of every day. The fear is that this will cripple their resources and that their slow responses may even do more harm than good. I believe this is a misconception. Social media is 24/7, that doesn’t mean you have to be. If you’re a small business especially, people will know and understand that. So set expectations. Tell people when you’re open to talk. People in the social world really are okay with that.

You only need to take one step at a time: remember that social media in customer service is an evolution. You don’t have to go all guns blazing straight away. So think about what you can manage, build incrementally, and make sure you keep your customers up to date on how you’re progressing. But most importantly, get started!